April 23 & 30, 2010

WXKS 1200/WRCA 1330/WUNR 1600, Newton, MA

It's rare that any transmitter site gets as much attention as the one at 750 Saw Mill Brook Parkway, in the Oak Hill neighborhood of Newton, Massachusetts, within spitting distance of the Boston city line. But over the past decade, this otherwise-inconspicuous site has been in and out of the headlines as its owners fought - and won - a long battle to convert it from a single-station AM site into a state-of-the-art site home to three high-powered AM signals.

Our story begins a decade ago, when Clear Channel's WKOX (1200 Framingham) first looked to this site as a possible new home. By 2000, WKOX had already tried and failed to find a new high-powered site west of Boston, and it was in February 2000 that we first reported in NorthEast Radio Watch that "WKOX wants to move to the current WUNR (1600 Brookline) site...blasting a full 50 kW (by day, anyway) down the road into Boston."

Making that happen took the better part of the decade, though. The neighbors surrounding the site put up a fierce legal battle that took several years to play out, and it wasn't until late in 2005 that city approval was finally granted to tear down the two-tower WUNR array that had stood on the site since the fifties, replacing those 350-foot towers with five unlit, unpainted 199-foot towers that would carry not only WUNR and the relocated WKOX but also WRCA (1330), relocating from its longtime site in Waltham.

And even after that, it took still more time - from early 2006 until well into 2009 - to build out this complex project. Why so long? In part, it was because WUNR had to stay on the air throughout the construction, operating from a construction trailer behind the old transmitter building while the building was completely gutted and refitted and while five new towers (and ground systems and feedlines) went in around the existing WUNR towers.

There's a story behind the building, too: city restrictions forced all three stations to fit their transmitters and phasors within the walls of that existing structure, which had once housed not only the WUNR transmitter but also studios for WUNR and its erstwhile sister station, WBOS-FM (92.9). (You can see "before" pictures in a 2006 Tower Site of the Week installment, here.)

Making it all fit would have been an impossible task back in the days of big tube transmitters: there's just not enough floor space in that little structure for a 50 kW signal (1200), a 25 kW signal (1330) and a 20 kW signal (1600), much less the phasors needed to create the complex directional patterns needed for those high-powered operations. But with the advent of compact solid-state transmitters for high-powered AM, the job went from "impossible" to just "mind-bendingly complex."

Here's how it played out in the end: the 50 kW signal on 1200 comes from a Nautel NX50 transmitter, backed up for auxiliary use by the BE AM10A that came over from WKOX's old Framingham location, where it was the last primary transmitter. Next to that is the BE 4MX-series transmitter for WRCA, and next to that is another 4MX for WUNR.

(Look carefully on the power-handling equipment next to the transmitters in the left-hand photo below- is that a Tower Site Calendar pinned up there?)

WUNR's Kintronics phasor sits across the narrow aisle from the transmitters, and another aisle offset from that is home to the Kintronics phasors for 1200 and 1330. (To make everything fit in the space available, part of the 1200 phasor ended up in an extension that sits above the main phasor cabinets, which helps to explain why the roof of the old WUNR building was rebuilt as part of the project.)

When we visited in early 2009 with Grady Moates, engineer for WRCA and WUNR, the work was just about finished: construction on the building was done, complete with a new exterior made up to look like a Colonial-style house, fake windows and all, and within a few months all three stations were licensed at this site with their new power levels and cities of license.

The last pieces of the project didn't come together until early in 2010: WRCA's old towers in Waltham came down as the lease on that site ended, and after much speculation about Clear Channel's goals for the AM 1200 upgrade, March 2010 brought a callsign swap that flipped WKOX to WXKS(AM), shifting the market's newest 50 kW signal from Spanish AC "Rumba" to talk as "Rush Radio 1200."

Thanks to Grady Moates for the tour!

This Tower Site comes with audio over at TopHour.com, where (starting April 28) you can hear a whole bunch of IDs from our January 2009 visit to Boston (check out another stop on that trip here) - and in the meantime, we urge you not to miss your chance to grab one of the dwindling remaining stash of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2010, just in time to fill that space on the wall where your 2009 edition once hung.

(It's more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support!)

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